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Bourbon’s Allure Rises to National Levels

Bourbon’s Allure Rises to National Levels

Marina Velez | June 20, 2023

When you combine corn, limestone water, white oak barrels, fire and years of aging you create one of the most popular alcoholic spirits in American history: bourbon. And June 14th is National Bourbon day! But why this particular day?

First, the backstory.  In the mid-1700s, settlers of Scottish and Irish descent in the Virginia and Kentucky areas began distilling corn as that was the only grain local to these regions.  Due to its sweetness it produced outstanding whiskey. The Limestone Shelf prevalent in this region, where all major American whiskeys are still made, saturated the local water with calcium while filtering out iron which is ideal for making moonshine.   According to folklore, bourbon was first produced by Reverend Elijah Craig on this day back in 1789. A noteworthy distiller, Craig, who had been using old fish barrels to store his spirits, started purifying the white-oak barrels by charring the inside to remove the smell.  Craig then embossed the barrels with the county of origin (port of Mayville, Bourbon County, in his case) and shipped them to New Orleans.  The travel time took about three months which allowed the charred oak to mellow the whiskey and give it a smooth, smoky, oaky flavor. New Orleanians loved Craig’s unique tasting gold colored whiskey and began requesting more of “that whiskey from Bourbon,” which referred to the stamp on Craig’s barrels.

Today, from Mint Julep whiskey cocktails at the Kentucky Derby, to whiskey tasting tourism and synonymous with Father’s Day, American Straights’ whiskey popularity continues to expand. In fact, the category remains in growth mode despite increasing competition from the Tequila and Ready-to-Drink (RTDs) segments. The category experienced growth of 4% in 2022 and has been increasing at an average rate of 6% in the last five years, now claiming a 10% share of the entire Distilled Spirits market.

Key trends of premiumization and consumers’ increasing knowledge of whiskey have attributed to this growth increase. The rising consumption of straights is likely to continue as more consumers learn about whiskey and are exposed to different product offerings. Moreover, straight whiskeys are now the third-largest liquor category.

The top 10 leading brands grew an average of 8%, most notably Ole Smokey, Bulleit Bourbon, Basil Hayden’s and Woodford Reserve. Two of the top straights brands ranked within the top 10 of the leading 150 distilled spirits we track— Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's.

Tasting preferences among consumers differ by gender and age group. According to a 2022 MRI-Simmons USA National Consumer Study (Drank In Last 6 Months), overall, Millennials favored the total straights category the highest at 40.3%, at an equal percentage amongst younger and older Millennials. The next highest generational segment was Baby Boomers; 27.2% said they drank straight whiskey in the past six months. Gen Z consumers tend to prefer flavored whisky with a delicate and non-overly sweet taste (12.5% of them consume Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey). Millennials also prefer flavored whiskey and bourbons with a flavorful dry finish (54% will drink Bulleit or Evan Williams).

Gen X and Boomers tend to prefer delicate bourbons with a complex taste (20% to 30% will drink Basil Hayden’s, Gentleman Jack, or Woodford Reserve). Men prefer smooth and non-overly strong whiskey like Gentleman Jack or Wild Turkey. Although males are the key gender driver of straights category, females represent 36.3% of the overall category and prefer flavored whiskies like Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Jim Beam Apple.

Straights continue to captivate consumers’ interest as they are perceived as heritage-filled and authentic, traits that play directly into the purchasing prerequisites of today’s consumers. For example, Uncle Nearest, the fast-growing, female-led brand embodies these characteristics and has been successfully leveraging these qualities to achieve outstanding growth and expansion of its national portfolio.

In short, American whiskey is experiencing rising demand for premium and super-premium products. Many new and existing consumers associate brown spirits with elegance and sophistication. They want to enhance their drinking experiences by purchasing high-quality whiskies to share with their friends or family members. This premiumization trend is affecting distillers in both developed and emerging markets. This will be a key driver of growth in the years to come.

For more information about this article please contact Marina Velez, Research Director,, 763-383-4453 

For more in-depth analysis of the Straight Whiskey category, consider purchasing the Beverage Information Group’s 2023 Liquor Handbook, available June 30, 2023.  For ordering assistance please contact Sherai Falcon,, 763-383-4423 or visit our website at 

about the author

Marina Velez

Research Director, EPG Specialty Information

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